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Aussie history of our humble Fish & Chips

Eating fish and chips is an iconic Australian experience. Possibly more well-known than a pie at the footie. You can get fish and chips in just about every Australian town, but how, where and when did Fish & chips find their way on to Aussie plates?

Like so many other elements of Australian society, the history of fish and chips is one of multicultural influences, in this case refined into a simple and tasty meal enjoyed equally by all walks of life.

Fried fish is thought to have first been brought to Britain in the 16th Century by the Marranos, a group of Jewish migrants from Spain and Portugal.

The invention of potato chips is claimed by both the French and the Belgians. The potato, of course, originally came from the South American Andes before being adopted by the Europeans.

The first recorded combination of fish and chips was in a London shop opened in 1860 by Jewish migrant Joseph Malin.

It didn’t take long for the concept to catch on here. The first Australian fish and chip shop is often credited to Greek migrant Athanasias Comino, who opened his shop in 1879 on Sydney’s Oxford Street.

It might have been even earlier, though, as family records say Athanasias copied the idea from a Welshman down the street. The peckish Greek had supposedly wandered into the unnamed Welshman’s shop and decided that cooking fish and chips didn’t look that hard.

Back in Britain, fish and chips became so popular there were 35,000 shops by 1927, although numbers have since declined to about 10,000.

Former prime minister Winston Churchill called fish and chips “the good companions” and during the Second World War they were considered so crucial to public morale that they weren’t subject to rationing as most other foods were.

In Australia, there are an estimated 4000 fish and chip shops today, with successive waves of migrants investing in these businesses and playing a crucial role in popularising the takeaway offering across the country. Of course fish and chips is also an essential menu offering in many hotels, bistros and restaurants.

Whether wrapped in paper or served with the finest china and silverware, fish and chips are a classic part of the country’s culinary landscape.